Tour Veteran Butorac Experiences First At Winston-Salem
Doubles champion plays wheelchair tennis
Eric Butorac has been playing tennis for the past 30 years. He's played more than 500 doubles matches during his 14-year ATP World Tour career. He's also won 18 ATP World Tour doubles titles.
But on Sunday at the Winston-Salem Open, the 35 year old experienced a first for his tennis career: Butorac plopped himself in a wheelchair and tried to play wheelchair tennis.
“Challenging” was how Butorac, No. 45 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, described playing the sport. Hitting the ball was no problem, he said. But he often forgot he was in a wheelchair and that he first had to move to the ball, and then hit it.
“We don't ever have to think about moving towards the ball, so that was another step,” he said.
The doubles champion also learned that his usual tactics don't work as well in wheelchair tennis.
“I tried to approach the net one time and that's completely the wrong strategy,” he said. “But it was fun to try and have a new respect for the game.”
Butorac and his Winston-Salem doubles partner, fellow American Scott Lipsky, participated in the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation (OPAF) wheelchair tennis clinic, which was made possible with grant funding from USTA Wheelchair Tennis. The clinic was held at the Wake Forest Indoor Tennis Center, next door to the outdoor courts of the Winston-Salem Open.
“[I] definitely respect these guys for doing what they do,” said Lipsky, who helped shag balls while Butorac played. “It's amazing to see how good they actually are.”
Chris Gallal, a 17 year old from Charlotte, North Carolina, has been playing wheelchair tennis for the past three months and participated in the clinic. He was impressed that Butorac hopped in the wheelchair. “It was a very nice experience and I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Robin Burton, executive director of OPAF, said the participation from the ATP World Tour players helped bridge the gap between able-bodied tennis and wheelchair tennis, which are usually two entirely separate sports, she said.
The longtime coach who helped run the clinic also appreciated the support from the ATP World Tour veterans. Frank Adams, who's been coaching wheelchair tennis for the past 20 years, said Butorac and Lipsky's participation will inspire wheelchair athletes for months to come.
“I think it's outstanding to have [ATP World Tour] players participate in something so significant... Being willing to go out there and play wheelchair tennis before they start their tournament, not a lot of players would do that,” Adams said. “I think it inspires everyone who got a chance to see them to take that risk.”